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5 Ageist Stereotypes That Really Need To Go Away Already

By Age Discrimination in EmploymentNo Comments

Ann Brenoff’s “On the Fly” is a column about navigating growing older ― and a few other things.

Stereotypes are the nasty buggers upon which many a misguided opinion is formed. Stereotypes may appear harmless to some people, but for those being stereotyped, they can be anything but. What we believe about any broad demographic or group is at the heart of how we treat them as individuals, how public policy is determined and how society comes to value or disregard them.

Here are some of the ageist stereotypes and beliefs that older people hear too often:

1. People who work past 65 are clogging up the job pipeline.

Older people are working past traditional retirement ages and frequently hear how we are gumming up the pipeline for younger people.

Last year, 19 percent of people 70 to 74 years old worked at least part time, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report. That’s up to a full decade beyond than the traditional retirement age of 65.

Older people can’t always and don’t always want to leave the workplace. For some, the reason is financial. For others, it’s about their emotional well-being and a desire to still contribute in a meaningful way. But when I hear that my generation’s failure to retire at 65 is somehow an impediment to younger people’s advancement, I can only ask, Why would anyone think that one generation’s right to work supersedes another’s?

But that attitude has deep cultural roots. It underscores the cultural attitude toward and the level of respect for the elderly in the United States — or lack thereof. In other countries, older workers are held in higher value and treated with respect for their experience and wisdom. No one accuses them of being a clog in the plumbing that holds back others.

A recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report found the countries with the highest rates of people working beyond 65 were in Asia. Not coincidentally, that’s where older people are revered for their wisdom and a high value is placed on experience. In Indonesia, almost 51 percent of people 65 to 69 are employed. That figure is 45 percent in South Korea and just under 43 percent in Japan.

In the United States, it’s 31 percent.

Of course, not every older worker in the U.S. wants to work. Good for those who choose to retire. But everyone should be given a choice and not feel pressured to move on and move over. Our ability to work is not tied to our age any more than it’s tied to our skin color or gender identity ― and you certainly surely wouldn’t suggest those are reasons someone doesn’t belong in the workplace.

Does it make you cringe to hear someone say, “Women should stay home and leave the paycheck jobs to their husbands” or “I’m a white guy who can’t find a job because affirmative action gives preference to people of color?” Now substitute “older people.” That’s ageism, peeps.

2. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Just to set the record straight: Older people may not have been born with a cellphone in hand, but they actually can be taught how to attach a photo to an email.

Please quit equating age with tech savviness. It’s a tired theme with cracks in its foundation. The Pew Research Center found that 31 percent of 75-to-79-year-olds own smartphones, 67 percent of adults 65 or older go online every day and 70 percent of older adults who use Facebook check it on a daily basis. Other Pew surveys found that older adults who say they get news on social media engage with news on these platforms at similar rates as social media news consumers who are 18 to 29.

Why would anyone think that people’s learning curve flatlines when they turn 50? Yet there’s real damage done when people assume that every older person is a tech illiterate.

Not to state the obvious, but who do you think taught all those recent college graduates their tech skills? Someone older, of course.

3. Older people are too sensitive.

When a joke isn’t funny and wounds people, is it still a joke? No, it isn’t ― and the “just joking” defense rightly doesn’t fly with gender discrimination, sexual harassment, racism and the like.

4. Age discrimination isn’t a real thing.

Ageism may be the last bias left to be addressed. And just like its first cousins sexism and racism, it is very real to those who experience it.

More than 50 years after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act became law, nearly two-thirds of workers 55 to 64 cited their age as a barrier to getting jobs, according to a 2017 survey by AARP. In a large 2015 Tulane University study, researchers proved that age discrimination is rampant in hiring. They sent more than 40,000 resumes to 13,000 job openings posted online in 12 cities. To each job posting they sent three resumes representing different age groups (young, middle-aged and senior). Even though all the fictitious candidates had similar skills, older candidates received far fewer responses than the young or middle-aged workers.

It was ageism, pure and simple, said Laurie McCann, a senior litigation attorney for AARP Foundation. Why has ageism been allowed to thrive at a time when sexist and racism are called out and punished?

“It’s because the ADEA is one of those second-class civil laws,” she said.

The act was modeled on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act but doesn’t have the same bite. Unlike Title VII, the ADEA does not allow the recovery of compensatory (e.g., emotional distress) or punitive damages, limiting them to unpaid wages or other forms of lost compensation. Unpaid wages alone don’t make such cases fiscally attractive for lawyers, McCann said. If lawyers aren’t involved, there is very little fear about deep-pocket settlements on the part of employers.

It certainly doesn’t take much to find hard evidence that age discrimination in hiring occurs unchecked. Seven of the top 18 Silicon Valley companies have a median employee age of 30 or younger, concluded a 2016 study by PayScale, a company that collects data on salaries. Statista put the median employee age in 2016 at AOL at 27, Facebook at 28, and Amazon at 31. (AOL is also owned by HuffPost’s parent company, Oath.)

“Workers should be able to be judged on their skills and abilities and not an arbitrary number,” McCann said, “and that’s not happening.”

5. Retirement villages are great places for older people.

Harvard Business Review recently reported that as a result of age-segregated housing, many young people will go through their entire lives with little or no exposure to older members of society. It is easier to blame and dislike the faceless.

A 2011 MetLife and National Association of Homebuilders study found that nearly one-third of people over the age of 55 live in age-segregated communities. A year later, research demographer Richelle Winkler found that U.S. age segregation is often as ingrained as racial segregation. And Cornell University professor Karl Pillemer connected the dots in a Next Avenue interview, calling the practice of age-segregated living a “dangerous experiment.”

HBR noted that age segregation “undoubtedly contributes to worries about a coming generational war” in which the needs of children are pitted against the needs of the elderly when it comes to increasingly scarce public resources.

“This is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been,” Pillemer said. “Vast numbers of younger people are likely to live into their 90s without contact with older people. As a result, young people’s view of aging is highly unrealistic and absurd.”

Unrealistic, absurd and riddled with stereotypes that are a poor substitute for reality.

Starbucks Discriminates Against Older Workers, According To Former Employees

By Age Discrimination in EmploymentNo Comments

Andrea spent a recent 13-hour shift at Starbucks, where she works as a manager, in agony. The 52-year-old, who asked that her real name and location not appear in this story for fear of losing her job, had opened the store at 5:15 a.m. and was supposed to leave at 1:45 p.m. But then she had to cover for an employee who went home sick.

An hour into her shift, she started to feel the familiar sharp sensation that shoots up from her feet to her back whenever she stands for prolonged periods. A few hours later, she began to limp. Andrea has a health condition that she didn’t want to specify, to protect her anonymity. She ignored the severe pain as she took drive-thru orders and made sure the coffee bar was running smoothly.

In the past four years, Andrea has applied for 29 jobs within Starbucks, in areas like human resources and recruiting, that would allow her to spend less time on her feet. She’s been rejected from all of them, and only once landed an interview, even though she’s been with the company for 15 years, was voted manager of the quarter for her district in 2016 and earned a degree through the Starbucks scholarship program at Arizona State University.

At first, Andrea thought she simply needed to further develop her management skills and put in more face time with the regional head office. But over the past two years, as she’s watched several of her colleagues over age 40 be fired or suddenly leave the company, she’s begun to suspect a more sinister reason for her repeated rejections.

Every time she receives the same corporate rejection letter stating that they decided to “go in another direction,” she thinks: “Am I a liability to them at this point with my health or with my age?”

Andrea’s started to feel like her days at the company are numbered.

Though she’s taken time off to have multiple surgeries, she never complains about her pain at work, worried that doing so could get her fired.

“I’m scared going to work every day that they are going to find some reason to let me go,” she told HuffPost. While her annual salary of around $71,000 is high for a service industry job, she’s a single mom who still lives paycheck to paycheck, supporting herself and her 23-year-old daughter who lives at home and has a neurological condition. Andrea estimates she spends between $200 and $400 a month on their medical expenses. “I would go bankrupt in less than six months, I can tell you that.”

Starbucks has recently been in the headlines for requiring its staff to undergo racial bias training, after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia store in April while waiting for a friend. But some employees say there’s another bias the company needs to address: age discrimination.

HuffPost spoke with seven current and former managers of Starbucks-owned stores in five states who say they were bullied by management and, in most cases, were either fired or pushed out of the company for being over age 40.

While Starbucks is often held up as a enviable workplace, where employees are called “partners” and receive stock options, a generous benefits package and free online college tuition, older staff members say the company is increasingly treating employees as disposable. They say that in the past five years, Starbucks has seemed intent on replacing older managers with younger, lower-paid workers who will tough out long shifts, take on greater workloads and cost less to insure.

Most of the people HuffPost interviewed had worked at the company for more than 10 years, and described similar patterns of being unfairly criticized at work, passed over for promotions, given fewer responsibilities over time and ultimately being forced out or let go for reasons that were at odds with their high performance. The situations range from an employee who said her manager made age-related comments to others who said managers fixated on their injuries, attacked their work and ostracized them.

Several said they complained to human resources, but that internal investigations were not done thoroughly and resulted in no apparent consequences for discriminatory managers.

“We have zero tolerance for any sort of harassment of any kind and have a very clear set of guidelines when any type of harassment or discrimination claims like this are made,” said Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, adding that the company can’t comment on specific cases. “We want our stores to be a welcoming environment for our partners and our customers and in any instance where that is not the case, we want to take swift action and address it.”

One employee told HuffPost she’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging she was fired because of age discrimination, and says she plans to pursue a lawsuit if the company doesn’t agree to mediation. Another former employee, Diana Kelly, recently hired a lawyer and plans to file an EEOC complaint for wrongful termination based on ageism.

The company has faced accusations of age-related discrimination before. In 2013, a 65-year-old former barista filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights after she was fired and replaced with two workers in their 20s. Starbucks told the community news site there was “no factual basis” to the woman’s claims. In 2015, a 63-year-old former Starbucks manager sued the company for wrongful termination based on ageism. The company settled.

“The biggest betrayal is ‘respect and dignity to every partner,’” said Kelly, paraphrasing part of the company’s mission statement. “I don’t feel like that has turned out to be true for the older people.”

‘One down, three to go’

Candice, a 42-year-old former Starbucks store manager in Orlando, Florida, filed a complaint with the EEOC after she was fired in March. Candice asked that HuffPost not publish her last name, to avoid jeopardizing her current job search.

She says she injured her back on the job last May, carrying 20 pounds or so of coffee. She took a brief medical leave, and when she stopped by the store almost two weeks after the injury, Candice’s boss handed her a “corrective action,” a document that listed issues with her performance. Her manager claimed she had failed to properly fill out the shift schedule ― though Candice said she hadn’t been informed of a new protocol ― and the cleaning schedule. Candice says she kept diligent cleaning records, which her manager had not audited or signed for over three months, despite protocol that her boss do so at least every six weeks. (HuffPost reviewed the cleaning logs in question, and it does appear that her boss had not signed them for several months.)

Candice, who worked for the company during two different periods for a total of eight years, was shocked to receive the corrective action, which she says is usually reserved for employees on the path to being fired. Her manager had never given her a verbal warning, which she says is usually the first step for low-level performance issues. (Borges said the type of corrective action an employee receives ― verbal, written or final ― depends on “the severity and nature of the infraction.”) Candice ran a high-earning store, had recently been cited by senior management as an exemplary leader in an email to all stores in the Florida region, and was beloved by many of her customers and employees. In an email to human resources that HuffPost reviewed, one colleague described Candice as a “mentor” and “the best Starbucks Manager I have ever had.”

Candice was so panicked about the prospect of being fired from a job she loved, and losing the salary her family of five depended on, that she lied to her doctor about feeling better and cut her medical leave short.

“I told my husband ‘If I don’t go to work tomorrow, I’m going to lose my job,’” she said. “It never felt like there was a real performance issue or anything out there I had missed. I really felt like I was a target immediately.”

When Candice returned to work, what she now sees as age discrimination became worse. Her district manager, a woman in her early or mid-30s who started the job in 2016, began showing up to the store to complain that it was dirty and disorganized. Candice says that was untrue, and HuffPost reviewed a document that showed her store scored a 96.8 percent on the company’s quality control inspection in June.

Every six weeks, her boss would send out a survey asking employees to rate Candice’s performance, according to a former barista at the store who asked not to be named in this story. The former employee added that it felt like their district manager was trying to “find some reason she could use to fire” Candice.

Candice says her manager also began making comments suggesting she was unfit to manage a store because of her injury and the fact that she was raising three sons. She felt like the comments were due to her age.

“I never thought I was old,” she said. “I worked really hard for 12-hour days and actually felt I had more stamina than 20-year-olds.”

A colleague told Candice that when a woman over 50 from their district was demoted in July, their boss said “One down, three to go” ― a reference to Candice and two other store managers over 40 in their district. (The colleague would not comment for this article because they still work at Starbucks and are concerned about job security, but HuffPost reviewed a text message that confirmed the colleague had reported the comment to an internal investigator.)

Candice felt like she could be fired any day. The stress turned her into a “zombie” who would come home from work and go straight to her room. Her husband said she had anxiety attacks that made her hands shake and her head dizzy. “I felt really bullied and harassed all the time,” Candice said. “[My manager] would always find something to put me down, and I would literally come out of work in tears or extremely sad. She had so much power over me, and it became a fight for my job and a fight for me and my integrity.”

Candice called HR to complain about her boss’ behavior three months after her injury, and says she was told another employee had also complained about this particular district manager. The company conducted an investigation. Candice says the investigator concluded that her boss had made the “One down, three to go” comment, which another employee had verified, and said that the manager “needs coaching on how to address partners” ― but Candice says she didn’t witness any consequences.

In March, Candice was fired after her boss claimed she failed to meet a “performance improvement plan.” Candice says she was replaced with a younger employee.

Covering up ageism

Legal experts say age discrimination in the workplace is common but hard to prove. Walker Harman Jr., a New York-based lawyer who specializes in employment law, says roughly half of his cases involve discrimination based on age or disability. It’s most common in jobs where employees are visible to the public, like in the service or retail industries, and at companies that want to project a young, hip image.

Unlike other forms of discrimination, employers have many ways of masking ageism. “Only infrequently do we get a case where someone has said ‘We gotta get rid of this old man’ or ‘You should retire’ or ‘You’re too old to use a smartphone,’” said Harman. “More often than not, it’s much more subtle and there were no overt statements made. The person was just terminated and replaced with a much younger person.”

Harman says management often invents or exaggerates performance issues to obscure ageism. “[Companies] have all these code of conduct things they have to follow,” he said. “Usually some young boss comes in and does not like working with the older person who has been around forever and finds any way to get rid of them as a technical matter.”

A soon-to-be-released survey from the AARP found that 61 percent of people over 45 say they have experienced or observed age discrimination at work.

Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for the AARP, said one potential sign of age discrimination is when an older, high-performing employee suddenly gets bad performance reviews. “It seems remarkable that someone was a stellar employee only to become a horrible employee,” she said. “That type of evidence can be helpful.”

Kelly, a former district manager who oversaw 12 Starbucks stores in northern Virginia, found out she had been fired last October. Kelly’s stores consistently ranked in the top five for her region, which she says includes roughly 600 stores, in customer service, low turnover and cleanliness.

The 60-year-old was let go suddenly, after her manager found a two-year-old photo of Kelly and other employees holding unopened bottles of wine at a colleague’s going-away party, which had been held at a Starbucks. Kelly was looking into alcohol-related claims involving other employees when her manager asked if she knew of any other incidents involving alcohol in her district. Kelly couldn’t recall any, but a few days later, her manager showed her the photo.

Kelly hadn’t considered the going-away party a policy violation. For one, she says the wine bottles were gifts that nobody drank at the store. The party was also held at 8 p.m., and though the store was still open, none of the employees who attended the party, including her, were working. (HuffPost reviewed a statement by the colleague the party was celebrating that corroborated those details and also noted that Kelly hadn’t brought any alcohol to the store herself or known that others would be doing so.)

The company policy, which HuffPost reviewed, specifies that alcohol is forbidden “on company premises, while conducting company business or during working time.” Kelly’s understanding was that if an employee wasn’t on company time, they could have a closed bottle of alcohol in a store; in 2016, for example, she was at another going-away party where employees gave a former manager wine without punishment. (A current Starbucks employee corroborated her account of that event, and added that in December, they witnessed a similar situation.) But Kelly says her boss told her that as a district manager, she was “always on the clock.” Borges said the company couldn’t comment on Kelly’s specific case, but that Starbucks’ policy makes it “very clear you are not allowed to have alcohol on company premises, full stop.”

Kelly thinks her boss saw the photo as an excuse to let her go. “I felt like it was a gift, like ‘Wow, we finally have something on her,’” she said, adding that she was the oldest member of her team. “I was on the higher end in terms of pay, and I think that had a lot to do with it.”

While she said she might have handled the going-away party differently in hindsight, she doesn’t think she deserved to be fired for a two-year-old violation of an unclear company rule.

Throughout her career at Starbucks, Kelly says, various bosses had promised her a promotion from district manager to regional manager. She even moved away from her family for six months to work on a project at the company’s support center in Seattle. She says management had told her this would be a steppingstone to higher positions.

But Kelly kept watching that role go to younger employees. In 2012, she says, a senior manager told her an “intangible” might be standing in the way of her getting promoted. She started to suspect her age was the reason when, in 2016, her 34-year-old boss started stripping away her responsibilities, such as training new employees.

Kelly became confident age discrimination was at play last summer, when the regional vice president told her she could not start an official company community group for older Starbucks staff, like the groups that exist for female, black, LGBTQ, veteran and sustainability-minded staff.

Her firing came as a shock. After being let go from a company she had served for 13 years, she “felt totally destroyed and totally betrayed.”

Profit over people

Current and former Starbucks employees told HuffPost they feel age discrimination is the byproduct of a larger company shift from valuing staff to treating them as replaceable worker bees.

In the last five years, Kelly said, the company has focused on programs to streamline duties and specify the exact tasks employees should be doing during their shifts, how long they should take and how often they should be repeated. The company that once had a reputation for putting employees first was now prioritizing efficiency and profit.

“I have never heard the words ‘quality of life’ in so many years now, it’s ridiculous,” said Kelly. “The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other.”

In 2016, a Starbucks employee in California made headlines after starting a petition on, a platform for grassroots workplace campaigns, about labor issues, which resulted in a number of articles about chronic understaffing within the company. The following year, 89 percent of Starbucks workers said staffing was still an issue.

“We kept getting more and more work and less and less time,” said Angela Gustavson, a 53-year-old former store manager in Daytona Beach, Florida, who says she left the company in September for reasons related to age discrimination. “And we still had to be this positive upbeat cheerleader and it was getting really hard.”

Gustavson had the same district manager Candice did, and describes a similar pattern of being unfairly criticized at work in the year before she was issued a corrective action last June. After Gustavson returned from a two-month medical leave, her district manager suggested she step down to a shift supervisor role. Gustavson did, and quit in August, after filing an HR complaint about a “hostile work environment” that she says didn’t appear to result in any repercussions for her boss.

The former employees HuffPost interviewed said they don’t think it’s a coincidence that as working conditions have worsened at Starbucks, more young people are being promoted to management positions. Kelly estimates that in 2010, about half of the district managers in her region were over 50, a number that had dropped to 33 percent when she was fired last year. Borges, the Starbucks spokesman, said the company doesn’t have readily available data on employee age demographics.

“I think as you get older and have more experience, you obtain a voice and feel like you should have an opinion,” Kelly said. “I think they just want young people who are going to do what they’re told to do.”

Younger employees are also usually cheaper. Kelly was making $112,000 a year when she was fired, and both Candice and Andrea, the employee who has applied internally for 29 jobs since 2014, say they were on the higher end of salaries in their districts ― $52,000 and $71,000 respectively, plus bonuses. Older staff are also more likely to use health insurance and have more physical limitations ― which Harman, the lawyer who often handles age discrimination cases, says companies might see as an impediment to productivity.

“There’s a perception that an older person coming back from medical leave just can’t do the job,” he said. “If a young person comes back after medical leave, the perception is… they are going to recover more quickly and will be healthy and not debilitated.”

After a recent surgery, Andrea’s doctor told her she shouldn’t be on her feet for more than four hours a day, but she says a senior manager refused to let her work under those conditions. “I think that it was a little of ‘Maybe if we tell her ‘no’ she will quit and we don’t have to worry about it,’” said Andrea, who used her vacation days instead of taking a medical leave. When she requested a day off after working a stretch of overtime post-surgery, Andrea says her district manager implied she could be fired if she didn’t come in to work the next day.

Andrea thinks she’d be a great asset to Starbucks’ corporate management team, but fears the company can’t see past her age and injury. “We come with a lot of experience, and you’re throwing that experience out the window to get someone here who’s younger and who you can pay a little less to,” she said. “Just because my body doesn’t work as well as it used to doesn’t mean my mind is affected.”

Borges said he is surprised by Andrea’s allegations, given Starbucks’ focus on health care. “We were one of the first companies to offer complete health care benefits to part-time and full-time employees,” he said, adding that for the past three years, Starbucks has been recognized as a “best place to work,” based on a survey from the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. “Oftentimes we are one of the top companies when it comes to issues around the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

After Kelly was fired, she lay in bed for weeks before she was snapped back to a frightening reality: She was the primary breadwinner for her family, which includes her husband, who has a disability; her 29-year-old daughter, who has been dealing with brain cancer; and her daughter’s three children.

She began working as a freelance sales representative for a company that sells credit card processing machines, but she says the work only brings in $500 a month. While burning through her 401(k), Kelly is looking for a steady job, but says that as a 60-year-old woman, nobody is “knocking down my door.”

She had long been enamored of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s muchlauded philosophy of putting employees first, and she still remembers fondly how in 2011, he called her at home to offer his congratulations after she founded an organization for homeless outreach. (Schultz announced last week that he is retiring later this month.)

“I believed in the company with my all my heart,” she said. “I would have done everything for this company.”

Kelly thinks if she had a chance to sit down with Schultz over a cup of coffee, he would see the injustice. “Maybe I’m wrong and I drank the Kool-Aid,” she says, “but I just can’t believe this is really what he would want.”

But when Kelly thinks about what she would tell him, she chokes up.

“I think I would be so emotional about it, but if I could speak, I would say ‘Has my 13 years with this company been for nothing?’” she said. “Was everything I believed in for those 13 years a joke?”

This story has been updated with a Starbucks employee’s recollection of various social events.

Losing the American Dream of Progress: Getting Fired at Midlife

By Age Discrimination in EmploymentNo Comments

Even though it is illegal, eliminating midlife workers has become a tacit business practice, putting the middle-aged in a difficult position

What is being under-reported in the official unemployment numbers is that being “too old” is a disastrous trend, extending over decades but worsened by the ongoing economic crisis. Losing midlife people from the workforce has dire consequences, and not only for them. It ruins the expectations of the young. It shreds the American dream of making progress over the life course.

Eliminating midlife workers, although illegal, has become a tacit business practice. According to one typical case that went to trial, an employer says, “We need young blood”; then employees over forty get fired (PDF). It’s not just affecting the bluest of blue-collar workers, but also professionals and managers. Younger people are not only cheaper, but also less likely to remember what decent hours and wages and security were like. The number of age discrimination cases has risen almost every year since 1997, from under 16,000 people to 24,600 in 2008, according to the government’s own data. An AARP litigator, Laurie McCann, believes the numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Women suffer from age discrimination in their forties, ten years younger than men. Ironically, such women are the first cohorts to become higher-level professionals in large numbers as they get older.

Two years ago I got a distressing email from a friend who had learned computer skills in her fifties to start a second career. She couldn’t find a job.

“I was interviewed only twice. Friends say my age is a main factor. What 36-year-old director of anything wants an assistant who is as old as her own mother? This has been truly depressing. Every application is an act of hope but I have been deflated so often, my pride bruised and my student loan still looms. I had not anticipated this problem. That was naive….”

She’s still looking.

Many people have no idea how likely they are to lose out because of age — which means they blame themselves rather than American middle ageism.

Among the unemployed over 45, half have been out of work “long term” — more than six months. After 54, it gets worse. In February 2010, only 23.3 percent of youths had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer compared with 39.4 percent of “older” workers.

People who lose jobs at midlife typically earn much less afterward. Boomers — so often touted as privileged — have a ten percent poverty rate between the ages of 40 and 50, when they should be approximating their peak wage.

People who are long unemployed can lose homes. Sex life ends. Families disintegrate. Parents fear becoming dependent on adult offspring in old age. Some midlife adults move in with their elderly parents.

Health suffers. Of the 46 million people without health insurance, almost a fifth are Boomers between the ages of 45 and 64. They can’t afford insurance. Many postpone tests and medical care. Not all make it to Medicare. Between the ages of 55 and 64, nearly 11 percent die, more than any other uninsured age group (PDF). Women and women between the ages of 45 and 54 have a rising suicide rate (PDF).

None of this is new. I call this pattern “middle ageism,” because, at 40 and up, the victims should have long productive lives ahead. “Encore careers,” indeed.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) has not worked as a deterrent to illegal behavior. Its enforcement arm, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), finds for plaintiffs only three to four percent of the time. It sues on behalf of a worker even less, in under .005 percent of cases, according to Laurie Mcann of AARP. So meager a number of firings “for cause” suggests that it is “engaged in discovering where discrimination does not exist rather than where it does,” in the words of Raymond Gregory, a lawyer and expert on these issues. Gregory’s book, Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Old at a Young Age, explains in detail how the system turned into what it is today.

The Supreme Court, in Gross vs. FBL Financial Services (2009), made it almost impossible to win an age suit. Congress starves the EEOC, leaving understaffed investigators unable to do their jobs.

How could the destructive conditions of middle ageism be fought better?

In states with better civil-rights laws and remedies that can work around the federal system, it makes sense to ignore the EEOC and sue locally. Congress could better fund the Commission. It could over-rule Gross, giving age equal status to race and gender on the grounds of “disparate effects.”

A single-payer insurance plan that did not penalize midlife workers with premiums two to four times higher than the young would prove that we value growing older.

Now, despite our boasted longevity, many Americans suffer from a viciously truncated working-life course. Younger people learn the value of the life course by observing their elders; What many are learning now is that they have less of a future than they thought.

The United States should be proactive in undoing this capitalist catastrophe. “Progress” in life could again mean gains in respect, ability to help adult children, and the assumption that experience matters. Seniority, broadly defined. The life course ought to be a story of progress that children can look forward to, workers can appreciate, and elders can look back on with pride.

A Focus on Age Discrimination in the Workplace

By Age Discrimination in EmploymentNo Comments

To the Editor:

Re “Three Men, Three Ages. Which Do You Like?” (Business Day, July 23):

The test groups used in the Princeton age discrimination study omit the cohort that primarily suffers such illegal treatment: employees between the ages of 46 and 65 (especially those nearing retirement age). Those employees are often let go by employers who perceive them to be more expensive and less valuable than younger replacements.

Also, while the article correctly notes that the Supreme Court has imposed a prohibitive standard for age bias lawsuits, the New York City Human Rights Law rejects the federal standard, requiring only a showing that age was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

New York, July 23, 2013

The writer is a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in age discrimination and other workplace disputes.

To the Editor:

While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 does not specifically bar an employer from asking prospective employees their age, doing so could be considered an intent to discriminate and the question is generally not included in job applications for that reason.

Fortunately for the older person seeking employment, résumés containing work and experience histories don’t always give away age, particularly if the person obtained his or her training and entered the work force in middle age or older.

Also, thanks to our cosmetics industry, elderly people don’t always have gray hair. All a curious employer has to do, however, is use the résumé information to look up the job seeker on one of the numerous “Find a Person” sites and obtain the person’s age. If the prospective employee is not hired, he or she can never prove that age was the deciding factor.

The inclusion of age information in these sites negates the intent of the A.D.E.A. and can be a damaging invasion of privacy.

New York, July 23, 2013

New Evidence of Age Bias in Hiring, and a Push to Fight It

By Age Discrimination in EmploymentNo Comments

MADISON, Ala. — Across the United States, mammoth corporations and family businesses share a complaint: a shortage of workers. As the unemployment rate has tunneled its way to a half-century low, employers insist they must scramble to lure applicants.

The shadow of age bias in hiring, though, is long. Tens of thousands of workers say that even with the right qualifications for a job, they are repeatedly turned away because they are over 50, or even 40, and considered too old.

The problem is getting more scrutiny after revelations that hundreds of employers shut out middle-aged and older Americans in their recruiting on Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. Those disclosures are supercharging a wave of litigation.

But as cases make their way to court, the legal road for proving age discrimination, always difficult, has only roughened. Recent decisions by federal appeals courts in Chicago and Atlanta have limited the reach of anti-discrimination protections and made it even harder for job applicants to win.

It is complicating an already challenging juncture of life. Workers over 50 — about 54 million Americans — are now facing much more precarious financial circumstances, a legacy of the recession.

More than half of workers over 50 lose longtime jobs before they are ready to retire, according to a recent analysis by the Urban Institute and ProPublica. Of those, nine out of 10 never recover their previous earning power. Some are able to find only piecemeal or gig work.

“If you lose your job at an older age, it’s really hard to get a new one,” said Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economist who worked on the analysis.

Tom Adair dressed in a sharply pressed white shirt and a blue blazer with gold buttons for the weekly meeting for ExperiencePlus, a group for job seekers over 50 held in the small library at St. John the Baptist Church in Madison, Ala., near Huntsville.

A former quality manager at Toyota and an Air Force consultant, Mr. Adair said he has had temporary consulting assignments over the last decade but has not been able to get a steady full-time job since the recession’s nadir in 2009.

“I ace the phone interviews,” Mr. Adair said. “They say: ‘Your résumé speaks volumes. You could hit the ground running. It looks like you’re the perfect fit.’”

“But you come in, and you’re D.O.A.,” said Mr. Adair, who is 71 and has neatly clipped gray hair. “You can see the look in their eyes.”

“My wife says: ‘We need to get you a face-lift. We need to get your hair dyed,’” he said.

Older workers are much more likely to wrestle with prolonged joblessness than younger ones, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, a 54-year-old job hunter will be unemployed for nearly a year.

Repeated inquiries can go unanswered, like space probes lost in a distant galaxy. In one of the most comprehensive studies, résumés were sent out on behalf of more than 40,000 fictitious applicants of different ages for thousands of low-skill jobs like janitors, administrative assistants and retail sales clerks in 12 cities. In general, the older they were, the fewer callbacks they got.

Those in their 60s “never do better, and often do worse,” than those a decade or two younger, said David Neumark, an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine, who oversaw the research.

It is toughest for women, who suffer more age discrimination than men starting in their 40s, the researchers found. “The evidence of age discrimination against women kind of pops out in every study,” Mr. Neumark said.

As for Mr. Adair, he said he had been through the same job-application routine so many times that it felt like “Groundhog Day.” Over the years, he consulted three lawyers about age discrimination. Each time, they advised that an individual lawsuit would not be worth the legal costs.

Credit…Andrea Morales for The New York Times

With a small pension and Social Security, he said, he and his wife are “just getting by.”

“It’s devastating,” Mr. Adair said. “You go through the stages just like dying. First you can’t believe it. You’re so sure and your wife is so sure, and even the recruiter is. Then you get mad.” By the end, you feel like giving up, he said.

Hiring complaints and lawsuits are rarely filed because they are difficult to prove and the cost is high, said Robert E. Weisberg, a regional attorney with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Florida.

To bring a case against Seasons 52, a national restaurant chain, Mr. Weisberg said, the commission looked to establish a pattern of bias over a period of years by combining statistical analyses with testimony from applicants.

The agency examined whether the chain could have hired so few applicants 40 or older if there had been no age discrimination, and calculated the odds at less than one in 10,000, according to court documents. The commission also collected affidavits from 139 applicants at 35 restaurants.

George Simmons was 45 when he applied at a Seasons 52 in Lone Tree, Colo., in 2014. “My interview was going well until the interviewer asked me my age,” he stated. After he answered, he said, he was shown the door. “I asked what was the problem,” he said, “and the interviewer responded that the restaurant was looking for younger people.”

Heidi Barsaloux was 44 when she applied for a bartender position at a Seasons 52 in Schaumburg, Ill., in 2010. “An interviewer told me that they were not looking for people with that much experience and wanted people who were more green,” she said.

A third applicant was told, “We are not looking for old white guys.”

Ultimately, the chain, part of Darden Restaurants, agreed last year to pay $2.85 million and hire a monitor to prevent discrimination against applicants over 40. As part of the settlement, the chain denied any wrongdoing.

There have been other legal offensives.

The Communications Workers of America has filed a lawsuit on behalf of millions of older Americans against Amazon, T-Mobile and Cox Communications, accusing them and hundreds of other major employers of systematic age discrimination in hiring based on targeted online advertising.

The union and several workers have also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against more than 70 employers and employment agencies related to age discrimination in recruiting. It expects that some of those will turn into class-action lawsuits.

By exposing so much of the help-wanted process on the internet, “the transformation to digital recruiting has shined a spotlight on how discrimination happens, and it’s made it much easier to do so,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer at Outten & Golden working with the union. “We’re going to start going after these companies, one by one.”

And in a broad settlement with civil rights groups and the union, Facebook agreed to eliminate the ability of advertisers to screen out minority groups, women or older job seekers from seeing particular help-wanted listings.

Facebook has agreed not to let advertisers screen out minority groups, women or older job seekers from seeing particular job listings. In one example of the practice, users who clicked on “Why am I seeing this ad?” were told it was aimed at men 18 to 50 who live in or were recently near Fort Worth.

“We want the E.E.O.C. to declare that this type of exclusionary advertising is unlawful” on any online platform, Mr. Romer-Friedman said.

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, said the company had taken steps to combat hiring discrimination and was exploring what more to do.

Dale E. Kleber had been out of work for three years when he saw a posting in 2014 for a legal position at CareFusion, a medical technology company. At 58, with three of his four children living at home, in a suburb of Chicago, he was feeling the financial strain of prolonged unemployment.

So even though the ad specified that applicants should have no more than seven years of experience, Mr. Kleber applied. CareFusion ended up hiring a 29-year-old.

Mr. Kleber, a veteran lawyer and former general counsel of a national dairy and food company, sued, arguing that a limit on experience effectively ruled out older applicants.

“Litigation is a terrible way to settle disputes,” said Mr. Kleber, who during his career had defended companies against complaints filed with the E.E.O.C. “It’s a very uncertain process, it is fraught with risk, and sometimes it comes out wrong.”

Putting a cap on experience, though, “just seemed so egregious,” he said.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit did not agree. In a ruling this year supporting CareFusion, it stated that recruiting practices that have the effect of screening out older applicants — what is known in legal terms as having a “disparate impact” — did not violate the law.

The decision mirrored one involving R. J. Reynolds Tobacco made earlier by the Court of Appeals for 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which the Supreme Court declined to review. It ruled that unlike employees already on the payroll who can show that a policy has a negative impact on a group regardless of the motivation, applicants would have to prove intentional discrimination.

Troy Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for Becton Dickinson and Company, which owns CareFusion, said, “We are deeply committed to providing equal employment opportunities and a workplace free from discrimination, and as such we are pleased with the decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.”

In April, Mr. Kleber and the AARP Foundation asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case.

“It defies common sense,” Mr. Kleber said, to think Congress “intended to offer greater legal protections to people who have jobs than people looking for jobs” when it passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967.

Other older workers and advocates elsewhere are making the same argument, pushing for a broader interpretation of the law.

In a federal court in California, a class-action lawsuit against the global accounting firm PwC that claims “substantial evidence of age disparities in hiring” was certified in April. The company noted on its career website and in reports that the average age of its 220,000-member work force was 27, and that 80 percent of the staff members were millennials (born after 1981).

PwC responded that the company’s “hiring practices are merit-based and have nothing to do with age.” It added, “The plaintiffs’ accusations are false, and we will prove that in court.”

After 10 Years, Age-Bias Suit Ends in Changed Hollywood

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

LOS ANGELES — People here rarely bother to hide the way that Hollywood covets youth. Film and television stars regularly brag about their latest plastic surgery procedures, and even the people who toil behind the cameras have been known to lie about their age to secure work.

So the $70 million settlement last week of a class-action age discrimination lawsuit brought by 165 television writers would appear to provide some solace to those who have long contended that they have been ignored by television studios, producers and agents merely because they are, to put it bluntly, old.

But a deeper look at the settlement and its terms indicates that the defendants might not be giving up all that much, and that anyone who is expecting the floodgates to open with opportunities for older writers is likely to be disappointed. In addition, there are some indications that, in the almost 10 years since court action commenced, changes have come to Hollywood that appear to have made the bias against older writers less pervasive.

“The best way to look at the settlement is through a fairly narrow lens,” said David R. Ginsburg, the executive director of the entertainment and media law and policy program at the School of Law of the University of California, Los Angeles. He noted that the statements of the targets of the lawsuit that they were settling the case merely as a business matter and their contention that they were not admitting any discriminatory acts “are not the sounds of a chastened defendant.”

Among the two dozen defendants were the major broadcast television networks and their affiliated production studios as well as several major talent agencies, which the writers said refused to represent them in the quest to get work. Together, the defendants agreed to a $70 million settlement, but about two-thirds of that will be paid by insurance carriers. That means that no network, studio or agency will itself be on the hook for more than about $1 million — less than the average cost of a single half-hour of television production.

Subtracting the roughly 40 percent of the $70 million that will go for lawyers’ fees and other expenses leaves $43 million for the plaintiffs. About $2.5 million of that will go to create the Fund for the Future, which will issue grants and loans to affected writers “to further their writing careers and study ways to supplement their pensions and improve access to medical insurance,” according to the settlement terms.

While that leaves about $245,000 for each of the named plaintiffs, few if any will get that much, because the payouts will depend on how many people apply for and are granted membership in the class of affected writers. Even a quarter of a million dollars is not much when spread over 10 years, the time the lawsuit has been pending.

Still, headlines are often what stick in people’s memories, and $70 million “is big enough that it may attract attention,” said Martin L. Levine, a professor of law and gerontology at the University of Southern California. “The threat of having to pay money is a strong talking point, so if some people around the entertainment industry remind executives from time to time of the settlement, that might change some behavior.”

Some behavior might already have changed. Research conducted for the Writers Guild of America, West, some of which was cited by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has found that since the suit was filed the percentage of employed television writers under the age of 31 has fallen by about one-third, to 6.2 percent of the total in 2007, from 9.8 percent in 1999.

Over the same stretch the percentage of television writers over 50 grew by about 10 percent, to 21.5 percent in 2007 from 19.3 percent in 1999.

Some of that change might have been caused by the age-discrimination lawsuit. But those trends also seem to mirror shifts in television viewing patterns: Audiences have aged, and many of the most-watched programs on television are police and medical dramas that target audiences in their 40s and 50s. At the same time scores of new cable outlets have targeted specific demographic sectors, perhaps providing additional employment for writers attuned to those groups.

Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild, West, which was not a party to the lawsuit, said that his organization remained concerned about the longevity of writers’ careers and the employment rate among older writers. “There is still a sharp decline in employment rates as writers get older, into their 60s and 70s,” he said.

There is also anecdotal evidence that things have changed in Hollywood.

In 1998, a couple of years before the writers first brought their age-discrimination suit, Riley Weston, a 32-year-old writer and actor, made headlines when she posed as a 19-year-old and was offered a three-year contract to write shows dealing with teenagers. “In a business fraught with age bias, I did what I felt I had to do to succeed,” Ms. Riley said at the time. When her hoax was discovered, her multiyear writing deal fell apart. This year one of the hottest television writers in Hollywood is Frank Pierson, who is 84. He won an Oscar in 1975 for his original screenplay for “Dog Day Afternoon” and was nominated in December for a Writers Guild award as part of the writing team for the drama series “Mad Men.” And he recently was hired as a writing consultant on the first season of the CBS drama “The Good Wife.”

Over-40 actors still fighting the ageism that stymied Judy Garland

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

In 1962, Judy Garland received an Oscar nomination for her role in Judgment at Nuremberg and regarded it as an auspicious restart for her career. She had been thrown into the deep end of Hollywood’s unforgiving waters as a child actor, and since her early success, every aspect of her life had been marred by desperate attempts to keep her head above water. Unsuccessful marriages to other struggling artists, an addiction to drugs that was spurred on by abusive producers and, above all, her constant anxiety to control her appearance – all these problems were symptoms of her toxic relationship with Hollywood. “Isn’t this pretty good for somebody Hollywood thought as too old, too fat and too undependable to offer a job?” she wroteJudy, the new film starring Renée Zellweger, recounts the sad ending that she was heading for instead.

Judy joins the list of Hollywood biopics that carry an air of atonement, in which the misfortunes of earlier generations of stars who were cast away from the industry – largely due to their age – are memorialised and sentimentalised. Films such as The Artist and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool have an admirable goal: celebrating the lives of performers who were callously underappreciated toward the end of their careers. But it is becoming more and more difficult to take away a positive message when Hollywood itself draws attention to how much Hollywood hasn’t changed.

The star of Judy is herself re-emerging from a hiatus: one that was caused by the same maladies afflicting old Hollywood that the movie depicts. Zellweger retreated from acting after she entered Hollywood’s dead zone for women aged 40 or over. She borrows from a familiar sense of disenchantment with the profession when she tries to give life to Garland’s emotional state at the end of her life. In interviews for the movie, Zellweger says she is ready for the roles that will embody her maturity. Whether the studios have the same plans remains to be seen.


Some big-screen veterans still attract an enthusiastic audience. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, which explored the lives of retired Brits living in an Indian hotel, exceeded expectations by grossing more than $130m worldwide. Book Club put the same trust in the box-office power of older American actors, including Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen. Both movies secured sequels and softened the industry’s attitude towards taking risks with older actors.

But for every hard-earned movie project that serves the age demographic well by telling a complicated story about old age, Hollywood churns out two Schwarzenegger movies with tag lines like, “Retirement is for sissies”. There are obviously Hollywood pitch meetings reserved for the older male action stars of the 80s. Twelve of the 15 highest-grossing movies of that decade have been remade, and most of them are produced to mask the age of their stars. Rambo 5, Terminator 6, Die Hard 5, Indiana Jones 5 and now the second Top Gun, all ride the new American myth of super-agers.

To pull this off, Hollywood encourages bizarre anti-ageing clinics even as it abandons the female stars of the 80s, pairing their former male co-stars with much younger on-screen love interests. And now the industry has added a new weapon to its digital arsenal: de-ageing technology. Advocates believe that VFX technology could help ameliorate the representation problem. But it’s more likely that de-ageing technology help Hollywood avoid the problem of finding roles for older stars by erasing signs of age as opposed to embracing them.

In the past, small- to mid-budget projects have been the most welcoming to older stars. Many darlings of the screen who hit their peak in the 1940s, 50s and the 60s bid their adieu delivering memorable performances in this subgenre. Among them were Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda playing ageing parents in On Golden Pond, John Wayne as an out-of-time gunslinger in The Shootist, and Julie Christie as a woman struggling with memory loss in Away from Her. More recent examples – Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun and Clint Eastwood in The Mule – underwhelmed artistically and commercially.

Perhaps Marlon Brando was the most accurate predictor of the future. Toward the end of his career, he had come to terms with Hollywood’s commodification of youth and vitality. He sought the help of early adopters of VFX technology to create an animated 3D version of his face, believing that the studios would, after his death, want to keep a young Brando alive on the screen. “Maybe this is the swan song for all of us,” he said, even though it’s not real and “inside a computer”. Today, Hollywood’s fascination with de-ageing technology seems to affirm Brando’s bleak premonition, as it continues to insist older actors surrender to its obsession with youth.

Aging Americans Snubbed in Best Picture Films

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

Studies from Humana, USC Annenberg’s Professor Stacy L. Smith highlight ongoing prevalence of ageism in film, perceptions of real-life seniors 

New research finds that characters aged 60 and over continue to be under and misrepresented in Hollywood’s most critically acclaimed films. Findings were uncovered through an ongoing partnership between health and well-being company Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. A separate but growing body of evidence exploring ageism suggests there are consequences to stereotypes of aging Americans—including potential negative health impacts.

Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC’s study analyzed 1,256 speaking or named characters in the 25 Academy Award for Best Picture-nominated films in 2014, 2015, and 2016, to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. In tandem, Humana analyzed its own quantitative survey data on the attributes considered most important for aging Americans. One theme that emerged from the Humana data was the perceived importance of feeling optimistic, valued or recognized. If seniors aren’t accurately portrayed onscreen, might it impact their well-being in real life?

A deeper analysis of the findings shows:

Even in the most critically acclaimed films, aging characters are underrepresented and stereotypically portrayed.

  • Of 1,256 characters evaluated, only 148 (11.8 percent) were 60 years of age or older – despite representing 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.[1]
  • Six of the 14 films that featured a leading or supporting aging character contained ageist comments. Examples of these comments include “mentally feeble, sick old ladies” and “…just sit here and let Alzheimer’s run its course” – revealing that even critically acclaimed films misrepresent what it means to be a senior citizen.

There are inherent consequences to these stereotyped portrayals of aging Americans – including not feeling valued as a member of society and a potentially negative impact on health.

  • Humana’s quantitative survey segmented seniors aged 60 and over by those who feel most valued, which was defined as being positively recognized and appreciated by family, friends and society.
  • Those seniors who felt least valued reported more than twice as many physically unhealthy days and more than three times as many mentally unhealthy days per month as their “most valued” counterparts.
  • Regardless of their health, most seniors agreed that film industry portrayals of their age group were inaccurate.

“The outcry over the lack of diversity at Hollywood’s premier award show has failed to recognize the value of senior voices on screen,” said Smith, director of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. “While 2016 best picture nominated films are more diverse when it comes to gender and some racial and ethnic groups, ageism is still an accepted form of exclusion in cinematic storytelling.”

Dr. Yolangel Hernandez Suarez, vice president and chief medical officer of care delivery at Humana, shared her own thoughts on the subject. “Clearly, there’s more work to be done before we can say precisely how inaccurate media portrayals impact self-image in seniors, from their sense of being valued to their sense of optimism, but what really concerns me as a physician is how a diminished sense of self-worth can, in turn, impact a senior’s health,” said Suarez. “In our survey, we showed that aging Americans who report feeling more valued in society tend to have more healthy days. At Humana, we believe aging with optimism contributes to health, and that’s why we’re committed to reversing societal perceptions and promoting aging with optimism.”

Key findings surrounding both studies will be showcased at “Over Sixty, Underestimated: A Look at Aging on the ‘Silver’ Screen in Best Picture-Nominated Films”, a discussion at the University of Southern California on Feb. 16.  The event, which will be livestreamed at, will feature both Suarez and Smith joined by Dr. Caroline Cicero professor at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and Gary Lucchesi, president of the Producers Guild of America and president of Lakeshore Entertainment.

For the full report, please click here.

About the Humana Quantitative Analysis

This survey includes 2,035 responses from U.S. adults aged 60 and older. Data weights are based on U.S. Census statistics for age, gender, geographic region, and race/ethnicity. It was conducted between Aug. 4- 21, 2016, and was designed to assess perceptions of the importance of various traits, characteristics or attributes of people as they age, then to have respondents rate themselves against the same attributes. Other data collected include general self-assessment of health, activity levels and perception of aging in popular culture. The survey also incorporated “Healthy Days,” a four-question survey developed and validated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It asks people how they perceive their recent health and how many days over the previous month they felt physically or mentally unwell.

About the USC Film Study

The Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative analyzed every speaking or named character in 25 films released in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Every speaking character was evaluated across a variety of measures (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, and age). Characters that were 60 years of age or older on screen were identified (n=148) and a qualitative analysis related to health and occupation was performed for these characters. A further set of measures were used to qualitatively evaluate the portrayal of leading and supporting senior characters across the sample.

About Humana

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, is a leading health and well-being company focused on making it easy for people to achieve their best health with clinical excellence through coordinated care. The company’s strategy integrates care delivery, the member experience, and clinical and consumer insights to encourage engagement, behavior change, proactive clinical outreach and wellness for the millions of people we serve across the country.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s web site at, including copies of:

  • Annual reports to stockholders
  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings
  • Most recent investor conference presentations
  • Quarterly earnings news releases
  • Calendar of events
  • Corporate Governance information

About USC Annenberg Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative

The Media Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSCI) at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a leading think tank studying diversity in entertainment through original and sponsored research. MDSCI findings create valuable and sought after research based solutions that advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Stacy L. Smith is the Founder and Director of the MDSCI.  Dr. Smith and the MDSCI examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The MDSCI also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films.  In 2015, Dr. Smith was named the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles by LA Weekly. Dr. Smith has written more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media.  In terms of the popular press, Dr. Smith’s research has been written about in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR. She has a co-edited essay in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009). Dr. Smith and the MDSCI’s most recent research reports include an analysis of 800 top-grossing films, the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (CARD) and a series of landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles.  To learn more, visit or follow on Twitter @MDSCInitiative.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban environment. Based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in the heart of Los Angeles, the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR) is truly at the center of one of the world’s most dynamic professions. Our mission is to connect corporations, agencies, academics and students to define the future of our industry and to develop those who will shape it.

Researchers, Writers And Actors Highlight And Tackle Ageism In Hollywood

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

Over the last five years, Hollywood actors have become increasingly verbal about ageism in the industry, in some cases joining forces to address disparities and increase opportunities for older adults. Reports from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative have highlighted the prevalence and portrayal of characters age 60 and above. Partnering with Humana in 2016, the Initiative continues to unveil the fact that seniors are not only underrepresented on screen but also misrepresented.

In a 2018 report, Still Rare, Still Ridiculed: Portrayals of Senior Characters On Screen in Popular Films from 2015 and 2016, researchers led by Stacy L. Smith found little had changed between 2015 and 2016 with respect to the depiction of seniors in popular films the researchers examined.

With respect to ageist comments, the trend continues and investigators caution that the implications may extend beyond laughs and into the health space. Like the prevalence of tobacco use in film and television, negative age-related stereotypes may fuel more medical consequences than anyone might have initially predicted.

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“These results are in line with our previous research on films from 2015, Academy Award-nominated movies, and even popular television series. Across these studies, it is clear that ageism is an acceptable aspect of story-telling. However, for senior viewers, these comments may have adverse effects. Priming of negative age-related stereotypes among seniors has been linked to unfavorable health outcomes such as cardiovascular reactions and memory activities.18 Though writers may intend to poke fun at aging by comically exaggerating stereotypes of older characters, the effects may not be funny at all.” (Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Smith et al, 2018).

Ageist comments by older celebrities, even when self-directed and humorous, can also contribute to this negative line of thinking. Whether these comments are propelled by discomfort, akin to the school kid who makes fun of himself before anyone else can, the fact of the matter is that every time the big or small screen captures a stigmatizing comment about aging, it is like everything else, magnified for the masses to consume and digest.

As the 92nd Academy Awards approach, trends appear to continue with older actors standing a better chance of being recognized for a supporting role than a leading one. Actor in a leading role nominees included only one actor 60 or older (Jonathan Pryce, 72). Actor in a supporting role included 4 of 5 nominees (Tom Hanks, 63, Joe Pesci, 76, Al Pacino, 79, and Anthony Hopkins, 82). For women, the trend was similar and worse, with no nominees age 60 and above for actress in a leading role and only one nominee (Kathy Bates, 71) for actress in a supporting role.

Women have been become some of the most visible players in changing the ageist narrative, including Oscar winners Meryl Streep, 70 and Nicole Kidman, 52 who have taken on a different kind of role in their affiliation with The Writers Lab. Launched in 2015, and founded by Kyle Stokes and co-founders Elizabeth Kaiden and Nitza Wilon, The Writers Lab is a screenwriting lab for women writers over 40. Supported by Streep and Kidman, The Writers Lab 2020 is produced by New York Women in Film & Television with co-founders Kaiden and Wilon. Its mission is to increase the number of stories written by female storytellers over the age of 40, not demand female-driven storylines:

“The Writers Lab is dedicated to developing narrative feature screenplays written by women over the age of 40. We feel it is critical to nurture the voices of mature women that have not been heard and are in danger of being lost entirely. We look forward to a new landscape where the female narrative is in equal proportion to the male narrative, and where shared stories strengthen our ties to one another and empower younger generations.

We are committed to female storytellers, yet we do not limit our search to stories about women. The Writers Lab seeks well crafted scripts, in all genres, exploring universal themes, using a full range of cinematic tools.”

The 2020 Writers Lab Contest registration opened this month and runs through March 2020. Winners will participate in an intensive workshop with accomplished female screenwriters and mentors.

Nicole Kidman emphasizes the need to acknowledge the power and viability of mature women storytellers in her 2018 SAG Awards acceptance speech.